Sergio Perez claims first F1 pole a day after nearby attack in Saudi Arabia

Sergio Perez Saudi pole
Lars Baron/Getty Images
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JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia — Sergio Perez won the first pole of his career Saturday at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, where Formula One has been under heavy scrutiny for continuing its race weekend following an attack on a nearby oil depot.

Perez of Red Bull surged to the top of the chart for the first time in 215 career F1 races with a late push to edge Ferrari teammates Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz Jr.

Series champion Max Verstappen, Perez’s Red Bull teammate, was fourth.

“It took me a couple of races,” Perez, who has been racing in F1 since 2011 and with Red Bull since last season, told Sky Sports after the pole. “But what a lap, man. It was unbelievable. I can do 1,000 laps, and I don’t think I can beat that one. It was unbelievable.”

Hamilton qualified 16th and was eliminated by Lance Stroll from advancing to the second round in the closing seconds of the opening session. He later moved up to 15th after Mick Schumacher crashed and was ruled out of Sunday’s race.

Hamilton’s new Mercedes teammate, George Russell, posted the fourth-quickest time in the first round and later qualified sixth.

Hamilton told reporters he had struggled with the balance of his No. 44 car. The seven-time series champion, winner of a record 103 pole positions, had his worst qualifying session since 2017.

Hamilton, who finished third at last week’s season opener in Bahrain, said he wasn’t distracted after he and other drivers met for several hours into early Saturday morning with track and series officials.

They took to the track as scheduled Saturday after receiving “detailed assurances” of their safety a day after an attack on the kingdom by Yemen’s Houthi rebels.

But most of Saturday was focused on F1’s decision to continue at a circuit about 11 kilometers (7 miles) from the bombed, smoke-covered depot. The attack Friday happened during F1’s first practice session of the weekend and smoke could be seen billowing in the background of the circuit.

Drivers met multiple times Friday for about four hours before deciding early Saturday morning to compete.

Hamilton, usually outspoken on human rights and other issues, said little about the collective decision to race. The seven-time champion only said he was eager to get home.

“Together as a group we all discussed and made a decision as a sport,” Hamilton said. “I don’t feel a particular way about it, I’m looking forward to getting out.”

Sainz said racing was the right decision but that F1’s controversial participation in Saudi Arabia can’t be ignored once the series globe-trots away to Australia and then Europe.

“There will need to be discussions after this race,” the Spanish driver said. “Because what has happened in the last 24 hours is definitely a point of discussion.”

Team principals were adamant Saturday it is safe to race in Saudi Arabia despite the attack by Yemen’s Houthi rebels. F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali addressed the decision to compete.

“We are not blind,” he said in comments distributed by a pool report. “You cannot pretend to change a culture that is more than (a) millennium in the blink of an eye. Of course there are tensions inside and things that have to be improved.

“We don’t want to be political on that but I do believe we are playing a prominent role in the modernization of this country.”

Domenicali also addressed the difference between remaining in Saudi Arabia against F1’s decision to drop its race from Russia from this year’s schedule after Russia invaded Ukraine.

Ferrari principal Mattia Binotto said the decision to continue was correct, but team principals also said no driver or team member would have been stopped from leaving.

The Houthis acknowledged the attacks Friday evening and Saudi Arabia state TV called it a “hostile operation.”

Hamilton and other drivers previously expressed their concerns about racing in the region, mainly concerning Saudi Arabia’s human rights record.

The attack targeted the North Jeddah Bulk Plant, the same fuel depot the Houthis attacked five days earlier. The plant is just southeast of the city’s international airport.

The plant stores diesel, gasoline and jet fuel for use in the kingdom’s second-largest city. It accounts for over a quarter of all of Saudi Arabia’s supplies.

A Saudi-led coalition fighting Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen unleashed a barrage of airstrikes on Yemen’s capital and a strategic Red Sea city, officials said on Saturday. The overnight airstrikes on Sanaa and Hodeida – both held by the Houthis – responded to the attack in Jeddah.

The circuit is hosting an F1 race for the second time, after the inaugural race last December, and pole-winner Perez called it “definitely the most dangerous place in the calendar. That’s no secret about it.”

Starting lineup grid for IMSA Petit Le Mans: Tom Blomqvist puts MSR on pole position

Petit Le Mans lineup
IMSA
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IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar championship contender Tom Blomqvist put the Meyer Shank Racing Acura at the front of the starting lineup for the Motul Petit Le Mans at Michelin Road Atlanta.

Blomqvist turned a 1-minute, 8.55-second lap on the 2.54-mile circuit Friday to capture his third pole position for MSR this season. Earl Bamber qualified second in the No. 02 Cadillac for Chip Ganassi Racing.

Ricky Taylor was third in the No. 10 Acura of Wayne Taylor Racing, which enters Saturday’s season finale with a 19-point lead over the No. 60 of Blomqvist and Oliver Jarvis (who will be joined by Helio Castroneves) for the 10-hour race.

PETIT LE MANS STARTING GRID: Click here for the starting lineup l Lineup by car number

PETIT LE MANS: Info on how to watch

With the pole, MSR sliced the deficit to 14 points behind WTR, which will field the trio of Taylor, Filipe Albuquerque and Brendon Hartley in Saturday’s race.

“We really needed to put the car in this kind of position,” Blomqvist said. “It makes our life a little less stressful tomorrow. It would have given the No. 10 a bit more breathing space. It’s going to be a proper dogfight tomorrow. The guys gave me such a great car. It’s been fantastic this week so far, and it really came alive. I’m hugely thankful to the boys and girls at MSR for giving me the wagon today to execute my job.

“That was a big effort from me. I knew how important it was. It’s just awesome for the guys to give them some sort of reward as well. It’s always nice to be quick. If you do the pole, you know you’ve got a quick car.”

Though WTR has a series-leading four victories with the No. 10, MSR won the Rolex 24 at Daytona and has five runner-up finishes along with its three poles.

The strong performances of the ARX-05s ensure that an Acura will win the final championship in IMSA’s premier Daytona Prototype international (DPi) division, which is being rebranded as Grand Touring Prototype in the move to LMDh cars next season.

Taylor qualified third despite sliding into the Turn 5 gravel during the closing minutes of qualifying while pushing to gain points.

“Qualifying was important for points,” Taylor said. “Going into it, if we outqualified the No. 60 Meyer Shank Acura, they had a lot to lose in terms of championship points. So, we were trying to increase the gap over 20 points which would’ve made a big difference for tomorrow. We would have loved to get the pole and qualify ahead of the No. 60, but in the scheme of the points, it didn’t change a whole lot. I’m feeling good since it’s such a long race, and the No. 10 Konica Minolta Acura team does such a good job strategizing and putting us in a good position.

“I’m very confident in our lineup and our team compared to them over the course of 10 hours. I’d put my two teammates up against those guys any day. I think we are all feeling optimistic and strong for tomorrow.”

In other divisions, PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports (LMP2), Riley Motorsports (LMP3), VasserSullivan (GTD Pro) and Paul Miller Racing (GTD) captured pole positions.

The broadcast of the 10-hour race will begin Saturday at 12:10 p.m. ET on NBC, moving at 3 p.m. to USA Network.


QUALIFYING

Results

Results by class

Fastest lap by driver

Fastest lap by driver after qualifying

Fastest lap by driver and class after qualifying

Fastest lap sequence in qualifying

Best sector times in qualifying

Time cards in qualifying

PRACTICE RESULTS: Session I l Session II l Session III